When people with epilepsy are asked to name their main concerns about living with seizures, the most common response is “loss of driving privileges.” After all, many people need to drive in order to run errands, get to work, school, and doctor’s appointments. Whether or not a person with epilepsy can drive in South Carolina is determined by the state, and no one, including a physician, has the authority to override these rules. Julie Desmarteau, PA and Jonathan Edwards, M.D. from the MUSC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center have put together a list of the common questions they get asked about driving & epilepsy:
Question: What are the driving restrictions for people with epilepsy in South Carolina?
Answer: According to South Carolina regulations, a person should not drive for 6 months after having any type of seizure activity or suspected seizure activity.
Question: Is my healthcare team going to report my seizures to the DMV?
Answer: Not in South Carolina. Some states require physicians report patients with recent seizure activity to the DMV. Fortunately, South Carolina respects the need for confidentiality between the patient and healthcare provider. If healthcare providers have “to tell on” their patients, people may not want to admit they have had seizures, then the provider won’t adjust their medication, and these people will still be driving, but their treatment won’t be improved.
Question: If a person gets a clear warning (sometimes called an “aura”) before a seizure, is it OK for them to drive?
Answer: No. Most people who get “auras” before a seizure will sometimes have a seizure without one. Anyways, a warning won’t help if traffic doesn’t allow you to pull over immediately. At least one study has found that in ¼ of seizure-related accidents, the driver did have an aura, but the accident still happened!
Question: Is it really a problem if I just drive to work, or to the store?
Answer: More than two thirds of seizure-related accidents occur while going to, from, or for work or running common errands. The SC DMV forbids all driving within 6 months of any type of seizure activity or suspected seizure activity.
Question: “Shouldn’t it be my decision as long as I never drive with my kids or anyone else in the car?”
Answer: If a seizure leads to an accident, everyone on the road is at risk, not just the people in your car. When you drive with uncontrolled seizures you put other people and their loved ones at risk, not just yourself. Also, think how your loved ones would suffer if you were injured or killed in an accident? Finally, consider the fall out if you were charged with vehicular manslaughter should someone die while you were driving illegally and against medical advice.
Question: Legally, what happens if I’m caught driving within six months of a seizure?
Answer: The least that will happen is your license will be officially revoked, and you will need to apply for reinstatement once you are six months seizure free again. This process requires, among other things, documentation from your physician. The worst that could happen is that you could be charged with criminal negligence, vehicular manslaughter, or even murder if injuries or damage occur as the result of you driving when you aren’t supposed to be.
Driving with epilepsy is a very important issue, and it should be noted that many people with a history of seizures can drive legally & safely. Rules about driving with chronic health conditions should be clear and easily available. Explicit driving regulations would remove confusion for people with epilepsy, their health care providers, and all motorists and passengers on South Carolina roadways.
Learn more about epilepsy on the MUSC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center’s resources webpage.